By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte is set to meet with the country’s rice traders in Malacañang today (April 5) amid concerns on the reported artificial rice shortage in the country.
The President is expected to appeal to the traders to avoid hoarding rice and imposing unjust price increases, according to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.
“The President will be meeting with the rice traders tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon because the President will have to take on that,”Evasco, chair of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, said during a Palace news conference.
“It was proposed by the Department of Agriculture secretary that rice traders should be called and that the President talk to them so that we can preempt whatever plans of these traders (are)and we can ask the traders to help us rather than take advantage of a situation to make money at the expense of the consuming public,” he added.
The President’s proposed meeting with rice traders came as Evasco blamed the NFA management for creating confusion and panic when it announced a supposed shortage of rice in the country.
Evasco claimed that the NFA management has created the “artificial rice shortage,” saying its “irresponsible” statement could make the traders “withdraw the rice and to speculate on higher price of rice.”
“In fact, if there is a sector in the country that can manipulate the presence of rice in the market, it’s the traders,” he said.
“An irresponsible statement that there is no more rice in the market would immediately create a reaction on people who do have rice on their hands, withdraw this and speculate the date when to release it at a higher price, at the detriment of the consuming public,” he added.
Asked if NFA administrator Jason Aquino should be fired for the agency’s supply problems, Evasco said it was up to the President to make the decision since he is the appointing authority.
Evasco, meantime, assured anew that the country has adequate rice supply, citing more rice imports are expected to be delivered before June in time for the lean months.
“Based on the information from the Department of Agriculture, there is so much rice,” he said.
Malacañang recently assured that the country’s overall rice supply remained more than sufficient, despite a low inventory of the government subsidized rice. It has assured that 250,000 metric tons of rice imports are expected before June to boost the NFA rice stockpile.
Less than a day’s supply
Meanwhile, the NFA has only less than a day’s worth of affordable rice reserve but the government continued to assure the country’s overall rice supply remained adequate.
Evasco has admitted that the NFA’s rice buffer stock was down to 0.35 day or around 200,000 bags of rice.
“Wala pa naman, wala pa. It’s .35 (day),” Evascosaid during a Palace news conference when asked if the NFA buffer stock has reached zero.
“That is if there is no rice produced tomorrow,” he added, when asked if there was already a shortage of NFA rice stocks.
The latest figure was below NFA’s mandatory 15-day buffer stock of government subsidized rice.
When asked how the government will supply rice in case of a calamity hits the country, Evasco said he intends to meet with the NFA council members to discuss the latest rice supply situation.
“We have to proactively think about it. In fact, I have to meet the Council members about this because this is a new development. And we’ll be asking the police to check whether it’s true or not,” he said.
DA assure sufficient rice
Despite the low inventory of the NFA rice, Evasco said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has assured that the country has sufficient supply of rice.
He added that additional rice imports are expected to be delivered to the country before June to boost the NFA supply.
“Based on the report of the Department of Agriculture, there is so much rice. And in fact, this is the reason the standby volume of rice of 250,000 metric tons was set to be purchased and to be delivered before June in time for the lean months,” he said.
Evasco also confirmed talks about the proposed abolition of the NFA, but clarified it could only be dismantled if there is adequate domestic rice production.
“Kinokonsiderana ‘yan [That is being considered],” he said. “NFA could only be abolished first, if we have enough rice produced in our country to feed our people,” he said.
Evasco acknowledged that the NFA might also be abolished if the Department of Finance’s proposal to lift the quantitative restrictions on rice imports is approved.
The Finance department had earlier suggested removing the rice import quota and instead assess a 35-percent tariff rate. At present, NFA is empowered to import rice and regulate rice imports.
“If we follow the proposal of the Department of Finance to do away the quantitative restrictions, definitely mawalaiyong NFA because we will now allow private traders to buy and sell this rice here in our country,” Evasco said.